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POSTED: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 11:24 PM

We drove up to Newark on Sunday for a very special Seeing Eye Night at the Prudential Center, where the Flyers took on the Devils. Except for the Flyers' loss, we all had a fine time and Sparkle clearly enjoyed watching the action both on and off the ice.

The Seeing Eye hosted an information booth on the main concourse, under a colorful banner, and its trainers were on hand to greet fans and answer questions. There were also several dozen Seeing Eye pups on hand, getting some great exposure to new experiences.

Sparkle behaved superbly. She wasn't flustered by the crowds and rode the elevator calmly up to our seats. We had some very steep steps to navigate to get to our seats, which were in the second row in the upper balcony. Sparkle paused at the top to get her bearings, then calmly took the steps one at a time till we reached our row.  The seating was very tight, but she tucked herself under my seat and popped her head over the seatback in front of us. Luckily, the seat directly in front of me was empty, and the three youngsters in front of us were delighted to have a pup as company.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 7, 2012, 11:16 PM
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Sparkle's life is going to change dramatically in just a couple weeks, but she's blissfully unaware. Here, she and Ernie are catching some cozy afternoon rays through the back door panes on a warm springlike day.

Our area coordinator from the Seeing Eye sent me an e-mail the other day, mentioning among other things that the pups in Sparkle's training class will begin going back to Morristown the week of March 19!  We're very rapidly getting down to the end of our puppy-raising with Sparkle, and the time has just flown by.

A lot of thoughts are going through my head. First of all, she's been doing very well lately. At the puppy meeting last month, she was quite obedient and willing to please in all the training exercises. She is exuberant and excitable, yet calms down quickly when working on the leash. I can definitely see the outline of a guide dog taking shape right in front of me as we walk.

And of course, for all my brave talk about how we will be able to give her back, it is always wrenching. I just told Josh, our 5-year-old, that Sparkle is not staying with us and has to go off to do a very important job for someone who is waiting for her. He just shook his head. I don't think he believes me, or can even comprehend what I'm talking about.

POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012, 11:09 PM

Porter, our former Seeing Eye pup and close companion to Sparkle, has had a weight problem for years. At his previous check-up a year ago, his weight had ballooned to a scary 91 pounds. So it was a happy surprise last week when he weighed in at a svelte 74 pounds! I knew he had been slimming down, but I was truly impressed at how much he'd lost.

No doubt it's largely from trying to keep up with Sparkle, our frisky Seeing Eye pup. They romp and play and chase each other every day, and we've been taking long neighborhood walks every morning throughout this blessedly mild winter. We've also had better success in keeping Porter from swiping the people food.

It's great to see a dog who's about to turn 8 in May so energetic and happy, thanks to our girl Sparkle.  

POSTED: Monday, February 20, 2012, 8:40 PM

We took Sparkle bowling Sunday afternoon (actually Betsy bowled and I handled pup and camera). It's a regular outing for the puppy club, and we all had a fun time. Betsy had been once before with the pups; this was my first time.

 As we entered, amid a tight crowd, Sparkle was overexcited and trying to jump on people. I'm working to bring her into public places deliberately and carefully, making her sit while I open the door and keeping her on a tight leash. Still, her behavior when we arrive at public places is pretty much over-the-top.

After we found our lane and got together with the group of about a dozen other pups, Sparkle began to settle down quite nicely. The bowling itself went great. She wasn't scared of any of the noise and didn't try to run after the ball or people who were bowling.

POSTED: Friday, February 17, 2012, 11:19 PM
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When I stopped Sparkle at a fire hydrant, she had no interest in sniffing it or peeing near or on it. I don't slow down for hydrants or mailboxes and keep her moving along as briskly as possible. As you can see, she's much more interested in something (I have no idea what) going on down the street.

It's by no means the most glamorous part of puppy-raising, but I'd been thinking for a while that I should address the issue of doggie potty time. And now with the fatal shooting of a man in Tacony who, according to police, had simply asked his neighbor to pick up his dog's poop, I realize it's high time to talk.

We train the Seeing Eye pups to eliminate before we take them out walking, using the command "park time." This part of training is crucial, because it is extremely difficult for a blind person to stop along the way to locate and dispose of dog waste.  Before I take Sparkle and Porter out, we spend a minute or two in the backyard  and I give the command for them to go.

Before we leave, I always make sure I have a poop bag, usually a plastic supermarket bag, and paper towels on me. About half the time, at least one of the dogs will have to take a potty break while we're  walking.  Everyone who walks a dog, not just a puppy-raiser, needs to develop a system of how to pick up the poop and carry it home for disposal. (I consider people who don't routinely pick up and dispose of poop to be outlaw dog owners, in the same category as those who let their dogs run loose in populated areas. And they give the rest of us a bad rap.)  

POSTED: Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 10:42 PM
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Sparkle loves the companionship of other animals. Here she is with Bennie, our other rescue kitty besides Ernie. But I give all animals, including cats, a wide berth when we are out walking. She's certainly relaxed here, but every time she sees an "unchaperoned" cat on the loose, she starts prancing and dancing on the leash.

The other morning, we were doing our usual brisk clip around the neighborhood, with Sparkle pulling ahead out in front, me in the middle, and Porter trotting along behind -- our customary on-leash formation.

As we headed along one stretch, I spotted an acquaintance walking her dog on the sidewalk toward us. I know her dog, and he is not at all vicious but he is a young guy and exuberant.

As I typically do in this situation, I crossed over to the other side of the street to give them plenty of room to pass. Instead of affording me a wide berth, the other dog-walker took way out into the street (about two-thirds of the way toward me), causing Sparkle to start lunging and straining against the leash. It was obvious then that the other person was hoping the dogs could "greet" each other  nose-to-nose.

POSTED: Friday, February 10, 2012, 10:59 PM

Friday was a routine kind of winter day, but I kept Sparkle engaged. After our usual morning neighborhood walk, I took Sparkle and Porter out in the backyard and threw the tire around for them. They were quite rompy, and thoroughly enjoyed some rough-housing over the toy. Colder weather does bring out their wolfish exuberance!

Later, I made a quick run with Sparkle to the local home-improvement store. I snapped on her green vest, and we headed straight for the lawn-power-tool aisle, where I picked out a replacement bump knob for the weed trimmer. (I'd snapped the plastic tabs last fall trying to hastily straighten out a tangled cutting cord.) I'm always fiddling with these darn trimmers, but that's another matter...

Sparkle waited quite patiently while I found the part, but she did knock over a small trash can at the cash register trying to say hi to the clerk.  

POSTED: Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 10:57 PM

At the neighborhood pet-supply store, Sparkle weighs in at 63.8 pounds. When she was a small pup, I expected she'd top out at around 65 pounds --  so she's reached her adult weight.  In the 10 months we've had her, she's gained about 57 pounds!

An update: Fellow puppy-raiser Jordan Ortiz, whom I mentioned last week, is training in Morristown with her new Seeing Eye dog, Hilton, and reports they are hitting it off great. They're taking a training trip to NYC.

About this blog
George Carter, The Inquirer's weekend national/foreign editor, has always counted dogs among his closest companions. According to family lore, he learned to walk by clinging to the side of a saintly patient mutt named Spanker. In turn, one of his earliest hazy memories is of tossing treats to the family dogs gathered expectantly on the porch of their Maryland farmhouse. It was only natural then, that when George saw a newspaper ad looking for families to raise puppies for the Seeing Eye of Morristown, N.J., he bit at the chance. From the start, it has been a family project, with teenage daughter Betsy as the official puppy-raiser. First there was Porter, a big-hearted yellow Lab born on Memorial Day 2004. A few years later, the Carters raised Velma, a gorgeous Lab/golden cross. Just a couple weeks ago, Velma's 7-week-old daughter Sparkle arrived as the latest family charge. George, Betsy and mom Cathy are thrilled that Sparkle is from Velma's very first litter. You can reach George Carter at 215-854-2411 or by clicking here. Reach George at gcarter@phillynews.com.

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